A Safer City: City leaders open up about crime challenges

WTHR's Andrea Morehead interviews IMPD Chief Rick Hite and Public Safety Director Troy Riggs
Published: .
Updated: .

Crime in our city has ignited conversation - and debate about how to reduce the violence and the victims.

Channel 13 is committed to digging deeper and bringing you stories that speak to the root causes of the problem and share how all of us can make our city safer. So we decided to begin the discussion at the top - when it comes to our city's safety.

There's rarely a day that goes by when the media doesn't report on crimes that leave families changed forever.

"What do you say to citizens of Indianapolis, that our city is safe. Some of them are saying they feel very fearful about the city right now. How do you calm their fears?" Eyewitness News anchor Andrea Morehead asked IMPD Chief Rick Hite.

"We want people to understand, we feel your pain," Hite replied.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is about to unveil a new approach to crime fighting, taking it to a new level to specific streets and to individual neighborhoods and homes. But before that can work, the two top men who oversee our public safety say they need more officers, mandatory minimum sentencing and the help of the community.

"We always say that public safety is everyone's responsibility. The only person that doesn't want you to tell the police what's going on is a criminal. And if you don't tell us, you may be the next victim. The police department needs help policing this city. To be a safe city, that has to happen. That's the greatest crime prevention we can do as a city," said Public Safety Director Troy Riggs.

We see daily reminders that crime prevention is still one of the city's greatest challenges. One of the most painfully memorable crime videos was of a man who police say killed a gas station employee then skipped away from the murder scene. After weeks of investigation, a tip led police to the suspect.

But in too many cases, police say people are not speaking up and coming forward.

"But for a lot of people, they say, 'I don't want to be a snitch, because I'm afraid there will be revenge, retribution'," said Morehead.

"Tyranny exists when good people do nothing," Hite replied.

"We know that 60 percent of our shooting victims who survived the shooting refuse to talk to police. We need people to get involved, stand up. If they see something, say something," Riggs said.

Police are still working to make an arrest in the shooting that rocked another part of our community.

"Broad Ripple. No one would have ever thought that something like that would have happened a few weeks ago, seven people shot," Morehead said.

"If shutting down areas is necessary, putting cameras where necessary, changing traffic patterns when necessary," Hite said.

In so many cases where public safety is at risk, police say they are willing to do anything necessary. Just a few weeks ago, our community mourned as hundreds of officers honored IMPD Officer Perry Renn who was killed responding to a call.

"I think people are starting to get a sense publicly what the police department has been dealing with the last 5, 10 years on the streets. They're starting to see that reality when you have an officer that dies confronting an armed individual as he did," Riggs said.

"And every single one of those men and women who take that oath are willing to do just that. Something greater than themselves," said Hite.

"We've had nine officers shot, a total of 30 that's been fired upon. You would think that many people would retire and leave the profession. And that's not the case. Says a lot about the dedication of IMPD," Riggs said. "And in fact I know they're going to the chief and saying, 'Put me in those tough areas, put us in those target areas. We want to make sure the people who live there are safe.'"

But whether the city has enough officers in those areas is a debate that has challenged the department and the city for years. In fact, Mayor Ballard just questioned whether more officers will actually control the crime problem.

"The chief and I have been very clear we need more police officers. We hired 80 this year. We need an additional 100-200 officers," Riggs said.

"Will they be assigned desk duty or will they be assigned to the streets?" asks Morehead.

"They're going to the streets. Patrol is the backbone of our enforcement. Getting out of the car, getting into the neighborhood. And getting chips in the bank when things matter," Hite replied.

Police putting criminals in jail and being able to ensure they will stay in jail has city leaders and police officers going to the Statehouse to push for minimum sentencing.

"We're asking for a 20-year minimum for anyone who uses a weapon in a violent crime in this city of Indianapolis or throughout Indiana. If we wanted to curtail and cut homicides immediately, that mandatory minimum sentencing of just 10 years means that we would not have had at least 20 homicides this year in 2014," said Riggs.

"When we know for a fact an individual is going to jail for an extended period of time, you'd be surprised the amount of information we receive from those persons who are associated, even information from other crimes," Hite said.

Any and all vital intelligence will now become part of the department's new Criminal Data Program - the first in the nation that will be unveiled this September.

"To track those individuals who have propensity for violence. We're looking at high-moderate-low risk types of individuals involved in those activities. We're targeting specific neighborhoods," Hite said.

That focus comes from information pulled from many sources into one central location where city leaders can react to changes in both crime trends and the social issues that trigger spikes in crime like job loss, poverty, drugs and health issues.

"The mayor will be able to look in one room and see all the data from all the different government organizations within the city. We'll also look at state and federal data and see the data from our non-profits and he will make decisions about actions that need to be taken in real time," said Riggs.

The program is one of many proactive steps that's shoring up the safety plan of a police department.

"And I think we both agree, that we can continue to do good work, we can continue to do this. And continue to try and keep our city safe, but even with this new approach in driving some of these crime rates down, the social issues that lead to a higher crime rate still exist. And if we want to reduce crime long-term in Indianapolis, we have to deal with the social issues, and not just focus on law enforcement. It has to be a total comprehensive package," Riggs said.

"Do you feel confident about the city's future?" Morehead asked.

"We have challenges. But I'm optimistic and I'll tell you why. We have a great chief, we have a great police department and we have a great city. We'll get it right. We'll get it right!" Riggs replied.

Chief Hite and Director Riggs say fixing the social problems, like lack of education and poverty, can help improve the crime problem.

Join Channel 13's Blue Pledge. If you see something, say something. Call 911.